Located 110 mi/180 km northwest of Quito, the coastal city of Esmeraldas, Ecuador, can be used as a base to visit nearby destinations. Esmeraldas itself is, in a word, awful—it's dirty and crime-ridden, rip-offs abound, and there's a serious malaria problem during the rainy season. And although its beach is large, a nearby naval harbor fouls the water.

Accommodations at the nearby beach resorts of Atacames are the most famous and can get very crowded around holidays, but the beaches are good. More-deserted beaches can be found near the tiny island port of Muisne or farther south in Mompiche. The Atacames beaches are among the most popular with young travelers, although they are not as attractive as the Caribbean beaches. Avoid the malecon; the safest area is the city center. Also, there is a serious crime problem along the beaches—stay in groups and don't walk on them alone at night.

There are Inca ruins at the nearby site of La Tolita.

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